Bad FAQs

How often do you visit a web site looking for information about some product or service -- even open-source software -- and encounter a Bad FAQ like those described below? Don't become part of the problem in your own efforts.

From the forward to the Subversion manual:

A bad Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) sheet is one that is composed not of the questions people actually asked, but of the questions the FAQ's author wished people had asked. Perhaps you've seen the type before:

Q: How can I use Glorbosoft XYZ to maximize team productivity?

A: Many of our customers want to know how they can maximize productivity through our patented office groupware innovations. The answer is simple: first, click on the File menu, scroll down to Increase Productivity, then...

The problem with such FAQs is that they are not, in a literal sense, FAQs at all. No one ever called the tech support line and asked, "How can we maximize productivity?". Rather, people asked highly specific questions, like, "How can we change the calendaring system to send reminders two days in advance instead of one?" and so on. But it's a lot easier to make up imaginary Frequently Asked Questions than it is to discover the real ones. Compiling a true FAQ sheet requires a sustained, organized effort: over the lifetime of the software, incoming questions must be tracked, responses monitored, and all gathered into a coherent, searchable whole that reflects the collective experience of users in the wild.
Karl Fogel
Chicago, March 14, 2004